Happy Hat Day: A look at campaign hats throughout history

  • Moments before a night session of the Republican National Convention in Chicago, July 8, 1952, the seats of New York delegates were covered with “Ike” straw hats. Although not a straw vote, as one observer joked, Eisenhower was nominated at the convention and went on to defeat Adlai Stevenson for the presidency.
  • Sen. John F. Kennedy makes his way through a crowd of supporters and journalists as he arrives in Los Angeles, July 9, 1960, for the Democratic National Convention.
  • A Lyndon B. Johnson hat from the Democratic National Committee, 1964.
  • Luci Baines Johnson made a whirlwind entry into the Democratic convention scene while rearing an LBJ button and hat as she moves through crowds on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J., on Aug. 25, 1964.
  • Illinois Senator Charles Percy takes a look at a Rockefeller hat given him when he arrived at Miami, Fla., July 30, 1968 for the Republican National Convention. He liked the hat and with the help of Carole Miller, 17, of Miami, put in on.
  • Robert Arnold of Hillsboro, Kansas on Aug. 26, 1968 in Chicago, is oblivious to the commotion around him as he sits beneath an out-sized straw hat, decorated with a Kansas sunflower and a variety of button sand labels, including one for Vice President Hubert Humphrey. 
  • Page Evans, 6, smiles as he wears a Nixon hat in Miami, Fla., Aug. 21, 1973. Page is the son of co-chairman of the Republican National Committee, Thomas Evans.
  • This foam hat was worn by Gerald R. Ford’s delegates during the 1976 Republican National Convention. Smaller text reads, “Paid for by President Ford Committee, Rogers C. B. Morton, Chairman, Robert C. Moot, Treasurer.”
  • Former California Governor, Ronald Reagan mingled with well wishers at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa on Friday, June 18, 1976. Reagan and President Ford’s wife, Betty, were here to campaign for support from the 36 Republican National Convention delegates from Iowa. Ford remained in Washington for briefings on the Lebanese crisis.
  • Joan Kennedy, left, greets two Kennedy supporters with the Massachusetts delegation, at New York’s Kennedy Airport, Aug. 9, 1980. The airport is busy with incoming Democratic delegates and supporters flying into New York for the convention which begins Monday. (AP Photo/G. Paul Burnett)
  • State Rep. John Joyce, D-Portland, gives the hat off his head to former Vice President Walter Mondale, left, outside the Portland caucus, March 4, 1984, Portland, Maine. Democrats across the state selected delegates to the state convention and voted their presidential preferences.
  • Delegates Paulette, left, and Nathan Timm from Mazomanu, Wis., Tuesday, July 27, 2004, wear matching hats at the FleetCenter in Boston during the Democratic National Convention.
  • Dean Knudson, an alternate delegate from Wisconsin, wears a “cheese head” hat at the Republican National Convention in Madison Square Garden, Sept. 2, 2004, in New York.
  • A hat from the Missouri delegation sits on empty seats at Invesco Field on the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Aug. 28, 2008.
  • Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds an Oklahoma City Thunder basketball hat before speaking at a campaign rally at the Oklahoma State Fair, Sept. 25, 2015, in Oklahoma City.
  • Lance Mack, of Marion, Iowa, puts on his hat as he waits to listen to Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speak at a town hall meeting at Strawberry Hill Elementary School, Dec. 12, 2015, in Anamosa, Iowa.

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Dig out your favorite ball cap. It’s national hat day in America. And while caps emblazoned with professional sports logos still dominate store shelves, it’s only fitting that the most talked-about hat of the last year came straight off of the campaign trail. 

First spotted in public last July, Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hat has become one of the most recognizable and sought-after items of the 2016 presidential election cycle. Worn fervently by Trump supporters and otherwise by trend-followers, the candidate’s tag line has transcended the political world in a variety of colors. “Over the summer I saw a few 20-somethings around my neighborhood in New York wearing them,” says MSNBC political analyst Steve Kornacki. “I have a feeling they weren’t actually Trump supporters, but something about the proudly out-of-date style gave them ironic appeal, I guess. I think Donald Trump inadvertently created a product for hipsters.” 

The ubiquitous hat is far from the first such accessory to enter presidential politics. According to Harry Rubenstein of the Smithsonian Institution, campaign hats were popular attire for 19th century political clubs at campaign events such as torch-light parades. “More recently,” Rubenstein said, “candidates have passed out hats at rallies and at political events to produce a festive mood and create an effect of mass and unified support for their candidate.”

It’s at party nominating conventions, attended by enthusiastic delegates from across the country, that both official and unofficial campaign hats have taken on a life of their own. “The iconic convention hat grew out of a tradition of hat-wearing delegates adding a button or flag to their head wear until they became elaborate works of art drawing media attention,” Rubenstein added. “In more recent times, delegates learned that those who wore personal displays on their heads got more attention from the camera crews that covered the national conventions.”  

That looks to be true in this election cycle, as well. Expect to see the political hat craze continue in July when Republicans and Democrats convene to nominate their candidates in Cleveland and Philadelphia respectively. In the meantime, browse this slideshow for a look at political headgear through the years.

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